This evening was Rat Pack Night on American Idol, a classy affair and all, which gave the remaining five Idols a chance to clean up real nice. That surely wouldn't be a challenge for the likes of Adam Lambert, who'd already proven he could rock a swanky suit and slicked-back pompadour, or for Matt Giraud, a man rarely seen without his cool-cat fedora hat. But what about casual hackeysacker Kris Allen or pink-tressed rebel girl Allison Iraheta? Or Danny Gokey, whose questionable past attire had included polar-expedition puffer coats?
And even more importantly, how would these singers--all under age 30--tackle songs from several generations ago and sound relevant in 2009?
So up first was Kris Allen--who I will say right now, for the record, does clean up nice. The boy sure wears a suit well. He looked good tonight (the constant dog-whistle-decibel screams from the girlies in the crowd when he crooned "The Way You Look Tonight" was indication of that), and even more crucially, he sounded good. VERY good.
Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi echoed Jamie's high praise during their post-performance critiques, with Randy giving props for Kris's "mad nice vocals" and declaring it his "best performance to date," and Kara calling him "truly a dark horse" and raving about Kris's "impeccable phrasing, diction, and rhythms." Paula Abdul further gushed about Kris's "amazing transition from being the adorable boy-next-door to sophisticated gentleman." But of course Debbie Downer-ish Simon Cowell was the crabby voice of dissent, puzzlingly calling Kris's performance "a little wet" and "like taking a well-trained spaniel for a walk." (Um, okaaaay...) Simon then sternly added: "I didn't get the feeling from tonight that you can win this competition."
And the girlies BOOED.
(Side note: Yes, Allison is SEVENTEEN now; she just celebrated her birthday. So that means the judges, who have a habit of constantly, incredulously pointing out Allison's tender age, have to remember she ain't 16 anymore. Paula may find this especially difficult.)
Well, Allison sure didn't sing that song like a 17-year-old. As usual, she performed like a seasoned veteran. And I dare say, her trademark husky vocals did lend a certain sexiness to the song, even if that was unintentional and even if Jamie Foxx wouldn't approve. Randy called Allison "the bomb" and told her, "You sing like Pink, but with 9,000 more octaves!" Kara, who was worried after Allison was inexplicably in the bottom three again last week, said tonight, "I ain't nervous for you anymore! You converted some new fans tonight! You proved you are not a one-trick pony, not just a rock chick...if that performance doesn't land you in the finals, I don't know what will."
Simon was, of course, not as confident in Allison's future, and openly questioned her self-belief, asking her directly if she thought she could win this thing. Allison answered yes, but perhaps a little too meekly, and Simon seemed unconvinced. He gave her a "7 out of 10" and told her: "I have a horrible feeling you could be in trouble tonight." (Way to bring down the mood, Simon!) I really hope Simon was wrong in this case.
Anyway, Matt sang "My Funny Valentine"--what Randy called "one of the hardest songs to sing EVER"--and his whole look, voice, and vibe was perhaps better-suited for the genre that any of the top five finalists. Matt gave a nice, mellow, stool-seated performance, and he ended very strong, but overall it was a little too period-piece and literal for me, like actually watching someone from that era instead of a rising new star of 2009. Randy and Kara were similarly unimpressed (Randy gave Matt a "6 out of 10" and Kara griped that she didn't feel Matt was "emotionally connected" to the material), but the exact reason why I wasn't that jazzed about Matt's jazz performance was why Simon dug Matt tonight. "I thought it was the only believable, authentic song I've heard tonight," Simon said. "I can tell that you love the music. It was almost Nat King Cole-type phrasing there. I thought you were absolutely brilliant!"
Oh, that Simon...he always keeps me, and everyone else, guessing. He's raked Matt over the coals for what I thought were excellent performances, and tonight he fawns over Matt. You just can never tell with Cowell. I personally think Matt's performance earned just a B, maybe a B+.
While Danny was rehearsing "Come Rain Or Come Shine" with Jamie Foxx, Jamie got right "up in his grill," like a foot away from his face (don't worry, Jamie assured America's viewers that Danny's breath was springtime-fresh) to pull a raw, non-robotic performance out of him. And I guess there was a method to Foxx's too-close-for-comfort madness, as the result was Danny's far-and-away best performance of the season. All season long I've gotten the feeling that Idol producers have tried to push Danny in a country direction (probably because there's been no real straight-up country singer this year), but after tonight I think Danny ought to go the jazz route instead. His voice and stage demeanor were perfect for this song, and when he finally cut loose at end and got all scatty and bluesy, it was best I'd ever seen him.
The judges largely agreed with me that new-school jazz is the best genre for Danny, with Randy saying, "You are the only one I've heard so far tonight who could actually make an album of songs like that." Kara added: "What I've been missing from you all season is that Rat Pack swagger. You had swag tonight! That was the most creative you've been. I'm starting to think you could do standards!"
(Side note: Ever notice how the Idol lighting and set-design crews pull out all the stops for Adam? The others practically perform under a bare lightbulb in front of a brick wall, while Adam gets supercool mood lighting and stage props. Not that I'm complaining, of course...just observing.)
Randy called Adam's performance "a little theatrical," to which Simon amusingly and correctly retorted, "That's like complaining that a cow moos" (sooo true--theatricality is what Adam Lambert is ALL about). But Kara appreciated Adam's flamboyance, calling him "confusing and shocking and sleazy and superb and way over-the-top...but I dunno, I like you!"
Of course she likes Adam. He rules! Frankly, the only "confusing and shocking" thing about him would be if he did not win this season. As Paula put it tonight, this season is "like watching the Olympics and he's Michael Phelps." (Did she mean the Throat Olympics?)
So who gets the gold medals tonight? Well, in my opinion, the best performances of the evening came from Adam and (now THIS confuses and shocks me) Danny. And I have a feeling my opinion will be shared by many voters tonight. So that leaves Matt, Allison, and Kris in the bottom three with the collective bronze.
Kris has yet to be in the bottom this season, which makes me think he'll be safe this week, especially since he gave such a knockout Rat Pack performance. Allison was great too, and though she's had near-brushes with elimination before, I do think it will help her this week that a) she gave a personable and un-stoner-like Ryan Seacrest interview, b) she just celebrated her birthday, c) she cleaned up nice, and d) she is the last girl standing at this point. So that means I predict that Matt Giraud will go home this week. He's been voted off TWICE already by the public, and I just think his number is finally up, despite the fact that he received raves from Simon tonight. I have a hunch that Rat Pack Week is the week that Matt will at long last pack it in.
Tune in tomorrow night to see if I'm right!
- Jamie Foxx
- Adam Lambert
- Kris Allen